One expedition changed Jo Bradshaw’s life and ultimately lead her to a new passion and new career as an expedition leader. Before that, she was a business advisor living a very normal, risk-free life. All it took was one adventure cycling 500 km in Peru to turn her life around.
In her new life as a mountaineer, Jo Bradshaw has become the 3rd British woman to reach the true summit of Manaslu and the 36th British woman to reach the summit of Everest. Jo is now on route to complete the 7 summits.
This inspiring role model for female adventurers came on the Tough Girl podcast to share her journey to becoming an expedition leader, experiences climbing incredible peaks, and advice for the mountains and beyond.
1. You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it.
How does one enter into an exciting life of adventure? After going on a parachute jump, Jo got a flyer for a bike ride in Peru. With a friend kicking her backside into it, she raised £4,000, started training, and cycled near Machu Pichu. The ride was tough but it proved to Jo that she was more capable than she thought. Most of her group wasn’t experienced in cycling and felt the difficult challenge of cycling above altitude - not to mention the 500 km distance and wild camping. Despite those obstacles, Jo’s first big challenge was incredible.
Years later into her life as a mountaineer, you might think Jo was born wearing a pair of climbing boots. But she’s always been an ordinary person like any other. By getting to that first challenge and going on the next and the next, she’s done things that she never imagined she would.
Jo decided to become a Mountain Leader because it was so exciting. She’s constantly doing things she didn’t think she could do. Jo explained, “You either love it or it’s not for you at all. You just get the bug.”
2. Be honest about your physical state.
Jo has taken 15-year-olds to 75-year-olds on challenging mountaineering expeditions. She related, “Everyone deals with it in a different way but it’s the attitude that counts.” You must listen to your guides and leaders if they say slow down or have something to eat. They want you to get there.
Having a headache or being sick once or twice isn’t game over on a mountain trek. Honesty is the best policy. If your guides don’t know what you’re going through, you can easily tip too far on the wrong side of altitude sickness. Jo advises taking everything step by step.
On any precarious adventure, it’s important to manage your physical state while pushing yourself mentally. There’s a difference between pushing your limits and not acknowledging them at all. Taking stock on your physical state doesn’t have to mean the journey is over.
3. Don’t let your ego set the pace.
Jo has found that middle age women who’ve had children, lived busy lives, and understand sleep deprivation deal with altitude and the whole mountain expedition better than younger males who’s egos push them to make poor decisions.
The expedition leader will often see young men going at a certain speed because they want to be top of the pack while women are content to move along wherever they may be. Unconscious mental decisions like this may have a greater impact than you think.
4. Train for the game you’re in.
Getting fit for an expedition is hugely important in Jo’s mind. Sometimes the reality is if you’re not fit enough, you might not get to where you want to be. Jo’s biggest advice is to train for the challenge at hand.
If you’re climbing a mountain, you don’t have to run a marathon to train. Your body needs to know what it means to walk for a few hours day after day. Practice carrying a backpack - especially with the weight of water - and get out there.
The best training for climbing a mountain is climbing a mountain and so on. Don’t make training more complicated than it needs to be.
5. Squash your fears.
Believe it or not, Jo always had it in her mind that she was afraid of heights. As her adventures continued, Jo realised that was just a reason not to do something. She noted, “You build up things in your mind, but if you want something badly enough, you find ways to get over it.”
A big part of facing fears for Jo is looking at the positive side. She focuses on the stable ground beneath her, the rope she’s attached to, and the support around her rather than the massive cliff to her side.
Jo quoted Rebecca Stevens, the first British woman to climb Everest and 7 summits, who said, “Your eyes are like a camera lens. You choose to look at whatever you want.” You can choose to look at the gaping hole beneath you or focus on the rungs.
Another tool Jo uses when fear is bubbling up and getting too big is mentally squashing fear with her foot. She noted that you can’t stop in the middle of mountaineering. You have to go up or down. If you make a drama out of the small things, small things become a drama. If you’re not worried about it, it becomes a normality.